US$900k gold theft case: Defence want charges dropped

Trial of a case involving theft of gold worth over US$900 000 at Plumtree Police Station took a new turn after the lawyers representing the suspects sought to have the charges dropped. 

The suspects, who include court officials and police officers, allegedly connived and stole gold which was being held at the police station as an exhibit. 

The suspects are Japhet Chaganda, Plumtree regional magistrate Timeon Tavengwa Makunde, area public prosecutor Stanley Chinyanganya, prominent Harare lawyer Admire Rubaya, Dingumuzi Ncube, Tyson Ruvando, Godfrey Makuvadze, Ladislous Tamboonei and Detective Assistant Inspector Ladislous Tinacho, in charge of the ZRP Minerals and Border Control. 

They are all facing theft charges or alternatively obstructing the course of justice. 

The suspects pleaded not guilty to the charges before High Court judge Justice Thompson Mabhikwa, before their lawyers, made applications to have charges against them dropped. 

The lawyers representing the suspects argued that allegations being leveled by the State are unfounded as the latter is seeking to review a case that was completed by a lower court. 

Advocate Thabani Mpofu, who is representing Rubaya(a fellow lawyer), argued that his client is being wrongfully accused. 

Rubaya represented co-accused Chaganda who was arrested on a Botswana-bound train while in possession of 14kg of gold during a trial that was heard by fellow accused Plumtree magistrate Makunde. 

Advocate Mpofu stated that the State was attempting to review a ruling which was made by the Plumtree magistrate’s court in the case of State VS Chaganda but was taking an unprocedural route in doing so. 

Makunde acquitted Chaganda after a full trial at the Plumtree magistrate’s court. 

“My client did not do anything wrong My Lord, he simply conducted his duties as a legal representative. He was being guided accordingly by his client’s instructions,” he said. 

“Whatever verdict was arrived at in Plumtree, unless procedurally challenged, still stands. The State in this case is trying to review the lower court’s verdict during a criminal trial. The prosecutor general is free to think judgment which was given could have been wrong but to deal with the issue, proper channels must be followed.”

“The charges against my client do not bring out an offense,” Advocate Mpofu added “This court is only obsessed with having a re-run of a trial which took place in Plumtree.”

Advocate Brian Mufadza, who is representing magistrate Makunde argued that his client cannot be made to stand trial over a ruling he made in his capacity as a judicial officer without the proper channels being followed. 

“This whole procedure My Lord is a direct attack on the independence of the Judiciary system. The proceedings of lower court have not yet been dismissed so how then does the State proceed to prosecute a lawfully completed matter? Unlawfulness cannot be upheld where a court order has been implemented,” said Advocate Mufadza. 

State representative, Khumbulani Ndlovu reiterated that the allegations raised by the State were worth pursuing. 

“My Lord, an exhibit was removed or stolen from the clerk of court hence the proceedings of the Plumtree trial form part of the allegations being faced by the accused persons in this court,” Ndlovu said. 

“An offence has been disclosed. Is there a defence from the counsel which will result in the acquittal of the accused persons? The State has simply laid down all the key points, let us proceed to trial and so that the case can be proven.”

Justice Mabhikwa postponed the matter to a date yet to be agreed upon to deliver his ruling on the application to except made by the lawyers. 

According to court papers, it is alleged that the accused persons are behind the theft of gold weighing 28kg valued at US$970 000, which was stolen from the Plumtree Police Station armoury through unlawful entry on July 7, 2018.

The offence came to light a week later when Chief Inspector Mangena, who was reporting for duty, noticed that two FN rifles which were booked in the charge office were not physically there in the armoury.

The gold was later intercepted by police leading to the arrest of Chaganda. He was found in unlawful possession of part of the stolen gold weighing 14 kg which he intended to smuggle to Botswana.

The recovered gold was seized by Zimra and handed over to the police in Plumtree. It is alleged that the nine accused persons hatched a plan to steal the impounded gold and allegedly played various roles in the scheme.

When Chaganda appeared in court charged with unlawful possession and smuggling of gold, Ncube allegedly sought the services of one Vusumuzi Sayi who in turn contacted his friend, Kailos Moyo to secure the services of Lovemore Sibanda.

Sibanda’s documents for his Qalo Syndicate were fraudulently used in court to claim ownership of the seized gold.

Tinacho contacted Rubaya to represent Chaganda. Rubaya allegedly roped in Makunde and Chinyanganya to further their plan of stealing the gold.

Tamboonei, a police officer, gave false evidence in court under cross examination by Rubaya while Makunde and Chinyanganya, who were aware of the scam, allegedly adopted an armchair approach during the court proceedings.

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